Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Legislating Human Diversity Out of Existence?

I'd like to think that, even as a teenager, I was a decent person, but I have to admit that, being a straight, white, cissexual male, I was unaware of the privilege that I was accorded just by the mere circumstances of my existence. While in college, having breakfast with some ethnically diverse straight male friends, I remember a line from a campus literary magazine came up: marginalized to the point of negation. As straight males attending a prestigious bastion of prestige, we thought it was a bit histrionic. Well, live and learn, and examine one's privilege, and decades later, it turns out that the current administration of the United States is doing exactly that- the Trump regime is proposing to use policy to 'disappear' the entire transgender population, literally marginalizing them to the point of negation.

Back when I was yukking it up about the line 'marginalization to the point of negation', my awareness of the term 'transsexual' would have been limited to a line in a campy song from a cult musical. At the time, though, I was studying such phenomena as mosaic gynandromorphism and gender shifting in biology class, but transpersons weren't all that visible in the social circles in which I moved. Even now, decades later, it's generally believed that transpersons are just 0.58 percent of the population of the United States, approximately 1.3 million individuals- transpersons are pretty well represented on my blogroll, and I value the wit and grit of my trans-friends.

Since my college days, society has progressed on LGBTQ issues, with bathroom bills having largely been considered the stupid last-gasp legislation of bigots who felt that their time was pretty much up. This has all changed with the ascent of Trump and, in this case I suspect, Mike Pence. Progress is NOT inevitable, but the idea that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, as Chris Hayes put it, is wrong- that arc has to be forcibly bent by dedicated activists. Here and now, there is an attempt to 'legislate away' the very existence of a small, marginalized population in these here United States, and such attempts to use fiat to 'remove' people are often precursors to actual attempts to remove them by violence. In these days, when Godwin's Law has up-and-died, the idea of purges doesn't seem so preposterous, and 'marginalized to the point of negation' takes on a cogent, horrifying meaning.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Two Phones, One River

What a difference a week makes! The grounds of my principal workplace are bisected by a small river, actually a brook (there are two names borne by this body of water), that feeds our onsite pond. There is a bridge across this river which is a favorite spot for people to stop and take photos of the site, with its pretty pond. Most people, of course, use their smartphones to take photos these days.

Last weekend, a woman who was attending our fall fundraiser stumbled on the bridge and the phone flew out of her hands, ending up in the river. The fate of the phone was immediately apparent when her husband called the phone and was instantly shunted off into voicemail. Nevertheless, hope is a persistent thing, and the couple asked me if I could search for the phone during my overnight shift, and I dutifully looked for the stricken phone in the dawn's early light, to no avail. I sent her husband a text message the following day to indicate that the phone was not recoverable.

Last week, a major renovation project onsite was started, a project which necessitates the draining of the pond- a culvert which allows drainage was opened up, and the water started to slowly drain out of the pond, exposing much of the bed of our small river. On Friday night, a girl attending our fall fundraiser dropped her phone while on the bridge, and it fell onto a now-dry portion of the riverbed. One of our contractors working the event located the phone on the riverbed below, and with the encouragement of our event director, attempted to retrieve it. He scrambled down the overgrown riverbank, then was brought up short when confronted by one of our local raccoons. He climbed back up the bank pretty much at the time I arrived.

Knowing that I have a high tolerance for not-too-pleasant tasks (years ago, one co-worker once told me that I'm not happy unless I'm getting my ass kicked), he and the event director told me of the dropped phone, and pointed it out to me... challenge accepted! I scrambled down the bank of the river, crashing through the underbrush without encountering any fauna. I examined the riverbank to locate the spots which looked least likely to be soft, muddy places to lose both shoes and footing. I was able to get the phone and return it, functional but with a badly cracked screen, to its grateful owner.

It was a matter of luck- if the pond-draining hadn't been undertaken, and the river level lowered, this second phone would have suffered the fate of its predecessor. Meanwhile, my reputation as the go-to guy to accomplish off-the-wall tasks continues unabated.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Pho Pho Fun

This afternoon, I drove up to Danbury, CT to meet up with some of the Alicublog regulars for dinner at Pho Vietnam. The occasion for this meetup was a Connecticut visit by the lovely, gracious, and hilarious Jenn of Ark and her nephew, who had flown up to the state to purchase an automobile. Derelict, Gocart Mozart, mds, and I met Jenn and her nephew for bowls of pho and camaraderie.

It was fantastic to meet Jenn, for many years one of my favorite internet snark-slingers, and to touch base with Derelict, GCMZ, and mds, who I had met before. After dinner, we stepped outside to admire Jenn's new car, a sleek six-speed Ford. We speculated about the use of the sixth gear, and Jenn hit upon the use, confirmed with an internet search... it's a fuel-saving measure, allowing a lower rate of RPM on flat straightaways. The car looks like it will be fun to drive. It's a long way back to Arkansas, but it should be a sweet road trip.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Stupid Reichstag Fire?

John Oliver coined a term to describe the debased nature of this scandal-ridden-yet-farcical era: Stupid Watergate. Last week's vandalism of the NYC Metropolitan Republican Club immediately struck me as a 'false flag' incident- the halfassed 'anarchist' iconography and the letter referencing 'blacks' seem to point to an individual trying, and failing, to grasp the language of the 'Social Justice Warrior'. The vandalism preceded a speech by Proud Boy founder Gavin McAnus, which preceded a brawl on the streets of the Upper East Side. The UES is one of the whitest, richest neighborhoods of New York City, and even though it has a storied bar culture, is not the sort of place where brawls regularly occur. I view the vandalism of the Republican club as the 'Stupid Reichstag Fire', given the violence which followed in NYC and Portland soon afterwards.

The police seem to be passively supporting the fascists, having allowed gang assaults to occur in New York, and covering up the discovery of a sniper's nest in Portland. Of course, the President is comfortable with encouraging violence- there is a move to normalize political violence. Thankfully, public outcry has led to the arrest of one fascist gang assault perpetrator, and more should follow.

With the midterm elections coming up, and voter suppression campaigns being waged around the country, this is going to be a long, stupid season. Hopefully, the violence will be tamped down, and the police forced to forestall gang assaults rather than acting as not-so-innocent bystanders. I'm not exactly holding my breath, though.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Numbers Games

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring 538's Riddler, economist and game theorist Dr Oliver Roeder. Dr Roeder was formerly with the Brennan Center for Justice and has recently released his book The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight.

Dr Roeder began his lecture with a description of the Rhind papyrus, a three-thousand year old Egyptian collection of mathematical exercises which begins with a wonderful description of mathematics as “The entrance into the knowledge of all existing things and all obscure secrets.” He then continued to extol the modern masters of mathematical puzzles, luminaries such as Lewis Carroll, Ernő Rubik, Tetsuya Miyamoto, and a man he singled out for especial accolades- Martin Gardner, who long wrote the mathematical puzzle column in Scientific American (and whose The Annotated Alice occupies a place of prominence on my bookshelf). Gardner popularized such math puzzles as tangrams, rep-tiles, and Escher's artworks.

Seeking to follow in Mr Gardner's footsteps, Dr Roeder has brought to the public such mathematical puzzles as planetary guardian, Laser Larry, the lonesome king, and chasing squircles. He described the different puzzle-solving cohorts as 'empirical solvers, theoretical solvers, and Jeff'.

He then launched into Riddler mode, testing the audience's puzzle-solving acumen. He started off with a classic in order to get our brains limbered up... the two jug puzzle featured in the second 'Die Hard' movie, which I believe was titled 'Dier Harder':

Then he had us split up into groups to engage in a game- how to allocate to use a one billion dollar budget to build a spacecraft which could reach an extrasolar object before spacecrafts built by rivals... the choices for components were top-notch American components, cheaper Russian components, and a finite amount of xenon gas which could improve performance. There were a couple of approaches- one being a blend of components, the other being to buy up all of the xenon (Dr Roeder joked that being a dickhead was advantageous here).

Then the audience was given a task to pick a number, with the two lowest unique numbers qualifying the respondents to compete onstage. The winners chose five and twelve, and were brought onstage. They were given a random number between 0 and 1, and given the opportunity to choose another number, with the one getting the number closest to one getting a prize. Both contestants were given numbers below .5, both chose to get another number. When asked to explain why they chose a second "draw", both indicated that they did so because they were below the halfway mark. Dr Roeder noted that the optimal cutoff is the golden ratio minus one with reader Christopher Mullan illustrating the problem with a graphic representation he dubbed the Pringle of Probability.

All told, it was a night of fun and games, reminiscent of Matt Parker's standup mathematics routine. Dr Roeder was a demanding, though not stern, taskmaster. I'm primarily a biology nerd, so having to exercise the mathematical portion of the brain was a good change of pace.

Kudos go to Dr Roeder, Dorian and Margaret, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House- this was a night of nerdy fun and games, and nobody decided to be a dickhead, no matter how advantageous it would be. For a taste of the sort of puzzles Dr Roeder deals in, here's a good video:

Pour yourself a beverage and join the Secret Solvers Club.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

THIS is the Bridge Too Far?

The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi authorities is horrific, but not surprising, given the Saudis' bloodthirsty idea of criminal jurisprudence. The cynical part of me tells me that the sustained outrage about his death is largely due to the fact that the guy lived in the US and probably had lunch with American journalists on numerous occasions. Meanwhile, the executions of poor women accused of sorcery is a mere sidebar in the news. One well-connected guy is valued more than any number of working class women- the whole 'NPC meme' is nothing new, I guess.

I don't wish to minimize the death of Mr Khashoggi, but where the hell were all of the pearl-clutchers over the past century of stonings, dismemberments, beheadings? Saudi money is a corrupting influence, and the current maladministration is ass-deep in the stuff, so I suspect that the current outrage will die down soon. Sure, Jamal Khashoggi might have been a lunch buddy, but the Saudis can pick up much bigger tabs than he ever could.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Hen Party

It being fall, the hen of the woods mushroom (Grifola frondosa) is on my mind. The best place to find these mushrooms is growing on a tree on which you have previously found them- they tend to recur, as the edible portions of the fungus are merely the fruiting bodies of a largely underground organism. I have staked out a few trees on which I have found hens. In a bit of counterintuitive thinking, I begin my search for new hen of the woods sources by looking up- the fungi tend to be found on oak trees, so if you find the tree you might find the mushroom. I did, though, find a small one growing on a moribund (now lopped) maple tree right in front of my house, seen on the right hand side of this photo:

I did not identify the fungus on the right hand side...

I hit paydirt while visiting an ancient oak tree at one of my worksites. This picture, taken last week, shows some of the seven fruiting bodies clustered around the tree like a hen of the woods party:

The fruiting bodies have subsequently gotten bigger, and I harvested the largest one last Friday, using a long, sharp knife to cut 'florets' off of the tougher 'stem' attached to the tree roots. Sauteed in a little olive oil, a portion of what I harvested made a nice meal, accompanied by a nice, crusty baguette. There's more left in the kitchen, and six additional fruiting bodies to lop off of the tree.

I have found an additional small 'hen' on a tree at my principle workplace, but it's not yet big enough to grab. The search goes on, as I look up to the canopy to find oak leaves and look down to find fallen acorns. The hens are out there, they have no poisonous lookalikes, and they are choice. This fall, I am throwing a hen party.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Respect for the Office

Despite the title, this is not a political post... it's literally about an office, specifically my office. I'm an indoor/outdoor cat, but I and the other guys in my department have a diminutive office at each of our worksites. It's the place where we have a lockbox for the company smartphone and a smattering of equipment, such as first aid supplies, spare keys, and a small toolkit. It also houses our department fridge, where we keep milk for our coffee and perishable lunch items.

This being our busy season, our office is also where our small army of contract parking valets keep their equipment: reflective vests, walkie-talkies, and traffic batons. This is okay, we work closely with them and they are a great bunch of people, mainly men and women in their twenties who never fail to impress me.

This, though, pissed me off:

Boxes of paper goods, meant for stocking the restrooms, which are swamped by the numerous visitors we get. I wouldn't mind so much, but they were blocking fridge access until I used my bulk to shift the stack enough to open the door a crack.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Delicious Purchase

In the runup to Halloween, I like to post about the outré, macabre even, pop culture that I enjoy. I am on the record saying that I am a big fan of Vincent Price, so I was happy as a clam when, on a visit to Washington Irving's home, Sunnyside, before work, I found a copy of Mary and Vincent Price's Come into the Kitchen Cook Book, which features pictures of the kitchens of notable historic houses, including Washington Irving's remarkable kitchen... which explains why the book was on sale in the gift shop.

The book itself is arranged in chronological order, starting with recipes from the colonial era, then exploring the addition of different foodways as the country expanded westward and new immigrant groups arrived, and ending with 'modern' recipes of the post WW2 era. This historic 'tour' of America's foodscape is followed with an extensive section about wine- purchasing, tasting, and matching the precious liquid with different foods, and even touching on home winemaking.

The friendly lady working in the gift shop told me that she had purchased the book, and that Vincent Price's recipe for popovers has become a regular part of her family's culinary repertoire. Even better, she referred me to a Tonight Show segment in which Vincent Price teaches Johnny Carson to cook in a surprising, and hilarious, manner:

Now, that was a twist ending worthy of M. Night Shabba Doo. For a man who was best known for starring in horror movies, Vincent was a brilliant comedic talent. I can't wait to put his popover recipe to the test.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Michael, Blow the Boat Ashore

Watching the coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Michael is disconcerting. The storm, a few scant mph short of being a category 5 monster, devastated coastal communities.

At the risk of seeming callous, my major reaction to news stories like these is to nerd out. This sort of destruction happened at the intersection of global warming and the sort of lax regulatory environment which leads to the construction of flimsy buildings altogether too close to the oceanfront. The IPCC just issued a report detailing the dangers of global warming as the storm was bearing down on the Florida panhandle, most of the residents of which voted for politicians who tried to legislate away global warming, by which I mean any mention of global warming.

I live on a hill in a city of hills but work in a low-lying area near a tributary of the Hudson River, so development in littoral zones holds a particular fascination for me. Beachfronts strike me as particularly bad places to build 'permanent' structures- proper foundations can't be built, storm surges are devastating. One look at the debris left behind by Michael had me thinking uncharacteristically biblical thoughts.

This being the second devastating hurricane to hit the Southeastern US this hurricane season, Michael should be the wakeup call that our government has been ignoring for the past two decades, but I doubt it will lead to substantive policy changes... it seems that not even the primal forces of nature can change the primal forces of nature.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Heroine Unlooked For

It's been a while since I've mentioned Taylor Swift on this blog. I have long been on the record saying that, while I'd rather jab a fork into my thigh than to listen to any of her songs, I have no animus against her. I actually met her right before she became a household name, and I never would have guessed that she was a celebrity, because she was so low-key and unassuming. She also seems to be very devoted to her fans.

I was surprised when she wrote a detailed Instagram post about her reasons for voting against Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn and urged her fans to educate themselves about political candidates and vote for those that represent their values. Predictably, the anime Nazi crowd lost their shit about this. Since Ms Swift has such a vast following of mostly-young, mostly-female fans, her coming out as a Democratic voter has terrified Republican politicians... indeed, after her endorsement, voter registrations have spiked. It looks like a sleeping giant has been awakened, and it's not going to take any BS from regressive men. Taylor Swift is a survivor of a sexual assault, so it's tempting to infer that the Kavanaugh hearings, and the Republican attacks against a survivor, forced her hand. At any rate, the long-reticent Swift has revealed herself as an advocate for civil rights, and the GOP just isn't aligning with her values.

If I were given a thousand guesses, I never would have guessed that Taylor Swift would be this year's 'October Surprise', but it seems as if she's The Chosen One who will lead her legions of fans to turn this country, indeed this society, around... and I can say that I met her 'back then'.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Giorno di Dio?

It's been our tradition this time of year to question the appropriateness of Columbus Day. As an Italian-American, and specifically a Ligurian-American, I have long maintained that Columbus, whose treatment of the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere was horrific, is not an appropriate standard-bearer for my people and our culture. Today, Dr Zoom at Wonkette wrote a post articulating this, a post similar to my typical posts on the topic.

I usually propose better representatives of Italian culture to replace the problematic Columbus. This year, how about Italian-American singer Ronnie James Dio? Signore Dio started his career as a teenager in the band Ronnie and the Redcaps. Here's il giovane Dio singing about a missing angel:

Later in his career, he discovered that the missing angel had become a holy diver:

Signore Dio's album covers typically depicted occult themes, which many critics might chalk up to a crass attempt to boost sales due to controversy, but my guess is that Ronnie was paying tribute to Dante Alighieri's most famous work- Dante being, after all, the person most responsible for the formulation of the formal modern Italian language.

Since the man grew up in Cortland, New York, the best way to celebrate Ronnie James Dio day would be to cook some spiedies, the jewel in the crown of Southern Tier Italian-American cuisine:

Perhaps the best thing about changing Columbus Day to Dio Day is that the Spanish translation would be Día del Dio.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Day the SCotUS Died

Because snark is the best defense mechanism...

Ta-ta Missy Yank Liberta,
Drove my pickup, full of sickup
From Bart O'Kavanaugh.
Them good old boys butt-chugging warm Meisterbrah,
Saying, "Keep Beach Week tales from my ma!"

Of course, this is a riff on this ubiquitous pop anthem.

Sadly, I have a 1.75 liter bottle of Tullamore Dew sitting in the kitchen which I am neglecting because I have to be at work at 11PM. Weird how drinking is seen as a remedy for dealing with a violent drunk being elevated to the Supreme Court.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Barty the Boofer Benched

I had a feeling it was going to happen... with the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, we have a Justice who is a serial perjurer and probably a serial sex offender. He’s the perfect corporate shill, the consummate toady who will shred the Constitution to serve an increasingly dictatorial executive. Trump sees him as a get out of jail free card, which is why this selection process was so rushed.

There is one month until the midterm elections, and we need to channel our indignation, our fury. Millions of Americans, many of them women whose trauma has been brought to the surface by the sham hearings, are devastated right now- grief is an appropriate response to this slap in the face of abuse survivors. It’s the follow up which counts now. Take the time to grieve, then it’s time to continue the fight.

Be strong, everybody. We will get through this. We have to...

Friday, October 5, 2018

It Begins

Tonight was the first night of one of our Fall fundraisers. This year, I am tasked with coming in at the tail end of the night and helping to shut things down. Over the years, I have come to know most of our contractors- the event security staff, the parking valets. Coming in tonight was like a reunion.

Things should be quiet after everybody leaves- I’m used to things being hectic, but I can get used to this.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Just in Time for Halloween

In a very cool coincidence (or is it?!?!?), a skull-shaped ‘dead’ comet will approach the Earth right around the Eve of All Hallows:


I’m not a believer in the supernatural, but if I were, I’d have to say that the cosmos has one fine sense of humor.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Dotard Deputizes Deplorables?

I had meant to turn off my phone as a rejection of Vulgarmort's policies, but last night was pretty rough, so I forgot to do so. I was awakened at 2:18PM by an 'emergency alert' from a man who I consider the greatest emergency these United States has ever faced. I immediately cleared the alert message and, cursing myself for leaving my phone on, went back to sleep.

The message awakened the lunatic fringe of Trump's deplorable base- the QAnon freaks interpreted it as a prelude to Trump declaring martial law against a shadowy cabal of Democratic 'elites' who sacrifice children and consume their flesh to get high. The fact that they are busy defending the SCotUS nomination of a guy alleged to have preyed on teenage girls, nominated by a guy who used to creep on teenage girls is lost on these knuckle-draggers.

The QAnon crowd positively thirsts for bloodshed in the streets- these are the folks who fantasize about the execution of John McCain by a military tribunal. They long for the streets to flow with the blood of the nonbelievers:4

The fever swamps of 8chan were abuzz with the jubilation of the Deplorables who believe that Dotard has deputized them. Personally, I am not concerned with a mass movement of QAnons, the majority of whom are trolls, the rest of whom tend to be out-of-shape baby boomers. The one concern I have is that some nutbar, emboldened by this inferred clarion call, will shoot up a pizzeria or harass the staff of a donut shop. For the most part, the QAnon crowd is a bunch of ineffectual numbnuts, fantasizing about being the Big Damn Heroes in a bloody action movie. Each QAnoner is a super shitty Walter Mitty, but there's a chance that an occasional live-wire will decided to bring the fantasy to life. It's times like this that I am glad I live in the Northeast.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Where Were You Working When the Storm Broke?

This has been one of those days... there were storm warnings all day, even a tornado watch for Northern Westchester and Rockland counties. As luck would have it, we had a VIP event scheduled for tonight- a preview of one of our Fall fundraisers which, again as luck would have it, happens in a tent in a low-lying field on one of our properties.

The e-mails tell the story... at noon, my boss wrote to tell everyone the event was cancelled, at half-past noon, the event was reinstituted. Either way, I had to work, so nothing was really effected on my end. I arrived at work, and there were mucky-mucks abounding. The first thing I did, as a favor to one of the part-timers in our development office who I absolutely love (she met her husband in one of the bars in my neighborhood, so we get along swimmingly), was carry a couple of cases of beer from our basement staff kitchen to the room where the pre-event reception was taking place. I was getting flashbacks to my high school years, when I worked in the local deli as a factotum. I was also able to touch base with one of the guys on the day crew who handles most of our maintenance work- plumbing, changing light bulbs, sending work orders for electrical jobs. I am a big proponent of institutional memory, so I was able to point out certain things which needed to be addressed before the busy season starts in earnest this weekend.

The event went off without a hitch, but as soon as it ended, all hell broke loose, weather-wise. While we didn't get any tornadoes, one was confirmed in Chappaqua, which suggests that Vulgarmort may have gotten his hands on the keys to Obama's Weather Smurfing Machine. A handful of people from the development office and my boss' boss made it back to the site's Visitors' Center, drenched to the bone. I helped them put the leftover beer and wine from the event in a storage room, then went to the basement to check to see if any flooding had occurred. Sure enough, some water was backing into the bathrooms from an overtaxed sewer system. Luckily, I had put down doorway flood barriers and flood control bags at the beginning of the shift, so things were somewhat contained. I told my big boss about the flooding and he was able to observe the rising level of filthy water coming up through the drains. It's nice when one of the bigwigs gets to see what we deal with happening in real-time. After a brief conference, I called our cleaning contractor, who had been onsite earlier to clean the place before and after the event, to let him know that his services, and his wet-vacuums, would be needed first thing in the morning. He's one of our best contractors, and I have come to value his competence and his friendship.

As the office staff left, I went outside to lock up the main parking lot, which was being overswept by a torrent of water flowing down the street. The water was over my ankles and, with the current, a lot of it ended up flowing up my legs, leaving me totally drenched, poncho notwithstanding.

I am now taking a brief breather before heading back outside to lock up an outlying parking lot, and making a hasty inspection of the property. Before I head back into the storm, which has subsided to a moderate rainfall, I think I'll post one of my all-time favorite songs, which lends its title to this post title:

Monday, October 1, 2018

About This October

October is our busy season on the job, but this year is going to be different- management has outsourced a lot of the seasonal tasks to contractors. There are temps of all sorts working for the organization, and I am sorry to say that my part-timers have had the rug pulled out from under them, hours-wise. Even worse, the employees of the contractor that is handling our work are incompetent- there have been multiple occasions on which they have been caught sleeping... this has even happened at 7AM, when these guys know that the day shift will arrive. To compound this shitshow, upper management doesn't seem to be doing anything about it.

There are also some new faces in the organization. In one case, a new hire has been appointed daytime Manager On Duty for one of our sites. I immediately took a liking to the guy- he comes across as low-key and competent. He wasn't given a master key to the site he's managing, and his alarm code is a temporary one. There is one master key that a bunch of employees have to pass among themselves like the Graeae passed their eye and tooth. I met with him last Saturday to give him the combination to our retail shop drop safe, and left with the thought: 'This poor man doesn't know what he's gotten himself into.' He was thrown into the deep end of the pool, and I have confidence that he will be a good swimmer, but it's not because management is helping.

From a staffing standpoint, upper management keeps moving the goalposts, and I am not happy about it. I had cobbled together a schedule for October and November by the end of the first week of August, but I currently don't have an approved schedule due to main office dithering. My immediate supervisor, a great guy, has been doing his level best to convince the muckety-mucks to commit to a schedule, and one which doesn't totally bone by part-timers. I've gotten to the point where I've said my piece, lobbied for the guys in my department, and finally thrown up my hands in frustration... though I should be able to finalize an October schedule tomorrow.

My job has never been like this before. The organization has always hired a small army of seasonal temps to help pull off our fall fundraisers, but this wholesale outsourcing is something new, and my department, usually insulated from this sort of thing, has been negatively impacted by the hiring of incompetents. October has always been a bit rough, but this is unprecedented and nonsensical.

The one thought that is getting me through October without banging my head against my desk is 'Winter Is Coming'.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Angst Abounds

Things have been weird in the few days since the Blasey-Ford/Kavanaugh hearings of last Thursday, and not 'good weird'. I can't recall a time when television pundits scoured Urban Dictionary to suss out the arcana of toxic teenage bro culture. Listening to music radio, DJs are remarking about what a tough week it's been. Several of the women I work with approached me to tell me about how they have been having a rough week. There is a psychic/emotional pall over the country, and it's not just my perception- calls to crisis hotlines have doubled since Thursday. Decades of PTSD are being brought into the open, wounds that have never been healed are made manifest.

This week doesn't promise to be any better- there is a creeping feeling of inevitability about the ascension of a probable serial sex offender and a definite ugly drunk with memory issues (PDF) and perjurer to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

This is a week when men need to shut up and listen to the accounts of the women (and men, let's not forget) who have been victims of sexual abuse and harassment. I don't describe myself as a feminist, precisely because I believe that that status must be conferred, not claimed, and too many a 'joke woke bloke' tries to don the mantle while remaining a cad. This is a week when trying to be kind is the most important task facing decent men:

We owe it to women, we owe it to society, we owe it to ourselves.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Flake I Can Get Behind

This week, we discovered that the fate of the nation lies in the hand of a flake, which discomfits me. Jeff Flake isn't the sort of flake I would place my trust in. There is, however, another flake in the news- a prolific ditty writer who has written over eighty-eight songs about municipalities in New Jersey. One of the songs aroused my curiosity, being titled Possibly the Best Song About Union City:

Who's going to break the news to Debbie Harry?

Poking around Mr Farley's YouTube page, I hit paydirt:

He GETS us, it's like he lives here! I especially liked his bit, one I joke about myself, about Yonkers being NYCs 'sixth borough'. He even works in Yonkers' nickname as 'The City of Hills', but tactfully leaves out the punchline: 'Where nothing is on the level'.

In these dark days, you take the flaky heroes you can get.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Comfort Food for an Uncomfortable Day

Like many Americans, I spent much of the day listening to a radio broadcast of today's hearings regarding Brett Kavanaugh. It was an uncomfortable day, so I decided to make some comfort food. Thankfully, due to the current meat glut, I was able to buy some osso bucco at about a thirty percent discount. At the risk of sounding like a stereotype, it was an offer I couldn't refuse. I put on the radio broadcast of the Senate Judiciary Committee and began browning the veal shanks in a Dutch oven. As I was waiting for the Maillard reaction to take place, I was listening to Dr Blasey Ford describe the role of the hippocampus in remembering traumatic events. Science works in everyday life, people.

After browning the veal shanks, I removed them from the Dutchie and started cooking the soffritto, to which I added two anchovy fillets (called 'Italian MSG' by Chef John), a couple of dried hot red peppers, and a generous dollop of tomato paste. I let these ingredients cook together until slightly caramelized, then put the shanks back in the pot, added a splash of white wine, a bay leaf transfixed with a single clove, a minced clove of garlic, and water to cover everything. Not having any thyme on hand, I crushed a couple of ajwain seeds in a pestle and added them to the pot, then turned the flame down to a simmer.

Speaking of simmering, I was simmering throughout the coverage of the hearings- I fumed at the cowardice which had the all-male Republican cabal on the committee hiring a woman to handle the questioning of Dr Blasey Ford. Throughout the proceedings, I had one ear on the radio while I followed Even Hurst's liveblog. I subjected myself to Kavanaugh stating that, while he likes beer, he has never been blackout drunk, and any of the 'ralphing' mentioned in his yearbook was due to a weak stomach. My personal view is that, when you are accused of being a bad drunk, and your high school yearbook entry is chock full of references to boozing, admit to at least the typical base level of inebriation which is almost a rite of passage for American teenagers. Even if you wish to claim not to be a falling-down drunk, the idea that he was a responsible social drinking is silly.

There were cringeworthy moments- particularly Kavanaugh's assertion that his daughter suggested that the family pray for Blasey Ford. That's a lot of wisdom from a ten year-old, but there was a lack of wisdom among the old white guys in the room. Lindsey Graham was especially fatuous today... for the record, no allegations of sexual misconduct were made against Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.

As the hearings simmered on, my pot simmered on, and I started another pot boiling to cook some polenta, the perfect bed for osso bucco. With two pots simmering, and the hearings drawing to an end, it was time to whip up a quick gremolata. By the time the hearings ended, I was thoroughly discomforted, so a dish of comfort food was a welcome respite- soon followed up with a decontamination shower.

The one takeaway I have from the hearings is that Dr Ford's testimony rang true- we do remember details of traumatic or shocking events. I can tell you where I was on 9/11/2001 and what I did throughout the day... the 'Remember 9/11' crying eagle meme crowd should be the first to admit that trauma is memorable.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

In Need of a Midweek Palate Cleanser

I spent much of today trying to catch up with the news, which is a total shitshow. Yesterday, after I finished my eight-hour certification training, I went to bar trivia, which meant that I was away from internet access for more than eight hours. The news being awful, I figured I'd post what Tengrain calls a 'palate cleanser'.

I've been a fan of UK indie band Wolf Alice upon first hearing them. They remind me of the best hard-rocking, woman-fronted 'alternative' bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Well, this band won this year's Mercury Prize for best album in their island homeland. Their performance at the awards ceremony started off with a shaky vocal performance by Ellie Rowsell, but she rallied and pulled off a wonderful rendition of the pretty Don't Delete the Kisses:

In the midst of this morass of misogyny, shitty politics, and environmental catastrophe, it's nice to know that there is beauty, and grit, to be found in this flawed world.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Out of the Loop

I will be heading out soon for an eight hour class necessary for my professional licensing. It will feel weird to be isolated from the news for so long, especially with the Kavanaugh controversy and Trump’s bizarre performance at the UN. With world affairs being so volatile, eight hours can spell a period of massive change. I’m not a deep sleeper- I’m not out of the loop for eight hours even when I’m in the Land of Nod.

I sure hope nobody in power breaks much while I’m in class.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Trigger Warning Week

Listening to the news today, I noticed that every broadcast on NPR and some on CBS had content warnings due to sexual content surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination. I kept thinking, “This is not normal. This is way beyond the Clarence Thomas shitshow.” This entire week needs a trigger warning.

I’m going to take a moment to address trigger warnings- a certain breed of asshole, typically male, uses the term as an insult. My take on it is that trigger warnings are for SURVIVORS, they are meant to protect people who have lived through traumatic incidents. I’d be willing to bet that the typical conserva-bro using the term in disparaging fashion would not be able to handle such trauma.

It’s been a rough week, and it’s only Monday. I know that some commentators at blogs I visit are having bad time with the misogyny on parade in the media. The news reports are carrying trigger warnings, it might not be a bad time to take a breather. We’re going to need all of our strength in the coming weeks.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

I'd Say that the Sexual Misconduct Is a Feature, Not a Bug

Last year, when the story of a fatal fraternity pledge incident dominated the local news, I posted about the code of bromertà- the omertà-like behavior of men who engage in violent, usually misogynistic behavior. A teenager who covers up sexual misconduct or the injury, even death, by misadventure of a peer will grow up to be a man who will cover up corporate, political, or sexual malfeasance.

That brings me to the Kavanaugh nomination- here's a guy with a growing litany of allegations of sexual misconduct. Add to that his sketchy financial history, and a picture of an easily compromised individual emerges. This is a guy who is vulnerable to blackmail at best, a serial criminal at worst.

The very idea that this creep, who makes Robert Bork look like a moderate jurist, would gain a lifetime position on the Supreme Court is utterly repugnant. Given the Republican Party's recent string of candidates with histories of sexual misconduct, it's utterly predictable.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

It's That Time of the Year Again

Once again, today is the day of the local street festival, which, because I live in the Tavern District of the City of Y______, involves a lot of beer drinking:

I have plans to meet up with some cousins for the festivities, and I know that my neighbors will be out in force. It's a sure bet that the craic is going to be fantastic, we denizens of the neighborhood wouldn't tolerate things otherwise.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Swarming Bacteria

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring Dr João Xavier, computational biologist and director of Sloan Kettering's X-Lab. Dr Xavier's topic was experimental evolution and swarming bacteria.

Dr Xavier began his lecture with a quote from Richard Dawkins:

My eyes are constantly wide open to the extraordinary fact of existence. Not just human existence, but the existence of life and how this breathtakingly powerful process, which is natural selection, has managed to take the very simple facts of physics and chemistry and build them up to redwood trees and humans.

He followed this up with a beautiful tribute to biodiversity, first showcasing the human diversity of New York City's populace with pictures from the subway system, then showing pictures of animal biodiversity, then expanding his focus to include plants, fungi, and bacteria. Dr Xavier then took a brief digression to note that he entered into the field of biology relatively late- he was initially more interested in math and physics, but eventually felt the call to apply his knowledge of those fields to biology. He followed up this digression with a brief overview of Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection: put succinctly, successful individuals will be 'selected' by natural processes to pass on their traits to their offspring, and this selection will drive the direction in which a species will evolve. The basic mechanism of biological inheritance was formulated by Gregor Mendel, who observed the passing of traits in plant lineages. The central dogma of molecular biology, as formulated by Crick et al. is that DNA is the molecular entity behind evolution. DNA encodes genes which make proteins. DNA can be transcribed- it is copied when a cell divides, and sometimes there are errors in the copying, known as mutations. Most mutations are harmful to an organism, but occasionally they may lead to better survival outcomes. Diversity emerges through mutations, and the fittest organisms tend to propagate.

Dr Xavier then noted that everyone alive today descends from a common ancestor, then he amended this statement to note that every living organism on Earth comes from a common ancestor. He noted that this is a hard-to-grasp concept, so some people refuse to believe it. This refusal to believe led to the creation of the 'Intelligent Design' movement, which posits a director/designer in the evolution of life. The bacterial flagellum was considered the icon of Intelligent Design creationism, but Dr Xavier noted that the proteins behind the flagellum are understood- complex structures look precisely adapted to their environment, they look designed, but their evolution in incremental steps is explainable.

This talk of flagella then segued into the real topic of the lecture- the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a human pathogen. Dr Xavier uses Pseudomonas to investigate the fundamental facts about evolution and their direct implications in medicine. Bacterial evolution can be deadly- Dr Xavier recounted a case in which a patient needed a bone marrow transplant, which involved suppressing their immune system. Ten days before the transplant, while the patient's immune system was compromised, the patient developed a Pseudomonas infection which was resistant to most antibiotics. The patient was treated with aztreonam, but the bacteria evolved resistance to this antibiotic through a mutation, sepsis set in, and the patient died. Antibiotics select for resistance against themselves- they kill off non-resistant bacteria, then the small population of resistant bacteria propagates. The evolution of antibiotic resistance is fast, and it happens all the time.

Dr Xavier then followed this cheerful news with another quote from Richard Dawkins:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

Bacteria evolve quickly because they reproduce quickly. The Pseudomonas bacteria form a swarming collective, they have motility due to their flagella. Dr Xavier studies this swarming behavior in petri dishes. Separate bacterial swarms in a petri dish repel each other. The bacteria need flagella to swarm, and this is the natural condition of the wild type. A non-swarming, non-flagellated form, known as flgK was developed in the lab. Dr Xavier then showed us a series of videos comparing the spread of swarming wild-type bacteria to the spread of non-swarming mutants:

Parallel experiments were conducted in different petri dishes, and they demonstrated the heritable and stable tendency to evolve into hyperswarming bacteria with multiple flagella, a new feature that evolved in the laboratory. Genome sequencing revealed the precise mutations which caused hyperswarming. Some bacteria evolved an excess of flagella, and too many 'tails' prevented swarming... the right number of flagella was needed. Hyperswarmers, though they move more quickly to exploit new resources, grow more slowly than the ancestral type bacteria- multiple tails require more resources.

Dr Xavier likened the petri dishes with different bacterial strains as to 'fighting arenas' in which the strains were pitted against each other. Different strains were stained red or green, and hyperswarmers were pitted against ancestral types. The hyperswarmers expand quickly and find nutrients, while the non-hyperswarmers are stuck in regions in which nutrients are exhausted. Faster speeds can come with a trade-off, though. Dr Xavier cited the invasive cane toad as an example of such a trade-off... in areas in which the toads are expanding their range, they evolved longer legs which enabled a faster spread. Dr Xavier joked that there was an 'Olympic village of cane toads' down under. The trade-off is that the longer legs, while enabling faster movement, also resulted in more spinal injuries among the leggy toads. In the case of Pseudomonas, hyperswarmers are not found in natural environments or in hospitals- while they can move quickly, they are bad at forming biofilms. In the fighting arena of the petri dish, the slow bacteria will eventually take over- in nature, the fast bacteria don't do well. It's difficult to evolve a change in the structure of the flagellum, the icon of the Intelligent Design movement. Dr Xavier got another dig in at the ID crowd- when the New York Times ran the headline “Watching Bacteria Evolve, with Predictable Results”, a creationist publication describing itself as 'a great tool for countering pro-Darwin propaganda' countered with the rejoinder 'They're still bacteria.' CHECK AND MATE, POINDEXTERS!!!!

Dr Xavier then went on to discuss the use of swarming bacteria to study social behavior- how do social behaviors evolve? Social behaviors can have a different impact on actors and recipients. In mutualism, everyone benefits- actors and recipients. Altruism is costly to the actor and benefits the recipients. Selfishness benefits the actor and is costly to the recipients. In the case of spite, everyone loses. Game theory uses mathematics to analyze behavioral choices. Dr Xavier cited the example of the prisoner game to illustrate game theory:

Kin selection explains many altruistic behaviors- altruism is more likely among relatives. When asked if he would lay down his life to save his brother, biologist J.B.S. Haldane was quoted as saying that he wouldn't, but that he would for two brothers or eight cousins. Altruism makes sense when it results in evolutionary fitness benefits.

Among bacteria, the whole population benefits from swarming, but swarming involves sacrifice among individuals. Non-swarming bacteria tend to consume all available nutrients in their environment until they cannot grow their population. Resources are spent to propagate a swarm, and the tiny contributions of individual bacteria can add up to an impressive spread. Alone, on-swarming bacteria cannot spread, but they can hitchhike along with swarming bacteria. In this cooperative situation, the ratio of swarming to non-swarming bacteria remains stable. Cheating is hard due to metabolic prudence- bacteria cooperate when they have excess metabolic resources to devote to swarming. Dr Xavier ended his lecture by joking that metabolic regulation of good behavior is not only found among bacteria- citing a study of judicial records which suggested that judges at parole hearings tended to become less lenient as they got hungrier, but exhibited renewed leniency after lunch.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session. Some bastard in the audience, thinking back to Dr Paul Turner's SSC lecture on phage therapy, asked if there had been experiments to use selective pressure to 'breed' less harmful versions of pathogenic bacteria by selecting and propagating less virulent individuals. Dr Xavier replied that this hasn't been attempted, but that it would be possible for less harmful bacteria to out-compete their dangerous relatives. There's no good model for this sort of study, but it could be evolved... of course, as in the example of the introduction of the cane toad to Australia, things could go awry, as organisms don't necessarily behave in the wild as they do in the lab. The Bastard missed a bunch of questions while taking a break to micturate, but when he returned to the main auditorium, the question regarded cancer- cancer cells have an initial propagation advantage over 'normal' cells, but are an evolutionary dead end as they kill their hosts... they are successful for a while, then they fail utterly. He also mentioned the transmissable cancer that is devastating Tasmanian devil populations as a particularly horrific example of this sort of thing.

Once again, the Secret Science Club served up a fantastic lecture. I am particularly struck by the sheer coolness of a Professor Xavier setting up clashes among mutants in a battle arena. The multiple videos of the petri dish battles were gorgeous:

Kudos to Dr Xavier, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

MTA Trolling?

The day being beautiful and temperate, I decided that I would leave my car parked near home, and would start my journey to the beautiful Bell House for tonight’s Secret Science Club on foot. I walked to the MTA Bx34 bus stop at Katonah Ave and 237th St and waited, and waited- the 4:55 bus was not in evidence.

At 5:06, the 34 bus arrived, with a second 34 bus close on its tail. At the intersection of Katonah and 233rd St, they were front to back, and they kicked for position the length of 233rd St. Transit, like comedy, is a matter of timing- in this case, I think the MTA was playing a prank on us. Thankfully, I made the transfer to the 4 Train with a minute to spare, so I can laugh at the joke this time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Beto'd Ban Barbecue? Bah! But Beto'd Better Ban Booger-Binging

I don't expect much from Texas politics, but Ted Cruz has brought proceedings to a new nadir of stupidity- at a campaign stop, he made a remark, passed off as a joke, that Beto O'Rourke would ban barbecue:

"When I got here someone told me that even PETA was protesting and giving out barbecued tofu, so I got to say, they summed up the entire election: If Texas elects a Democrat, they're going to ban barbecue across the state of Texas."

This is a companion piece to his campaign's stupid assertion that Beto would bring tofu, silicon, and dyed hair to Texas, as if those things weren't already there:

"We are seeing tens of millions of dollars flooding into the state of Texas from liberals all over the country who desperately want to turn the state of Texas blue. They want us to be just like California, right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair."

Weird, I'd bet actually folding money that Cruz himself dyes his hair, as does his wife, the vegetarian.

At any rate, Ted Cruz has nothing to worry about, because whatever the hell this thing is, it sure as hell isn't barbecue:

But whatever it is, I wouldn't mind a ban on eating it.

Monday, September 17, 2018

No Trip Like the Nostalgia Trip, by Which I Mean the Fantasy Trip

The Tor Books site has a fun post about the 1977 Television special presentation of the Rankin/Bass animated film of Tolkien's The Hobbit.

I recently watched the animated film< and I believe that it holds up well. The character design is inspired by the illustrations of Arthur Rackham, a personal favorite of mine. Here's the Rankin/Bass version of Thorin and Company:

They look similar to Rackham's depiction of Henry Hudson and his crew from Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle:

The animation in the film was done by Japanese company Topcraft, a precursor to Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. The voice acting, featuring such Bastard favorites as Paul Frees and Don Messick, was excellent, with a standout performance by 'stand up tragedist' Brother Theodore as Gollum:

Yeah, not to badmouth Andy Serkis, who did a credible job as this creepy junkie analogy, but this is the real deal. Also, Peter Jackson put WAAAAAAAYYYY too much of this character in his movies.

Veteran actor Richard Boone also did a bang-up job as Smaug, perfectly portraying the arrogant, jaded dragon as a bully and a braggart playing cat and mouse with an unknown intruder:

The film, released in 1977, was a watershed moment in nerd culture, as the Tor piece asserts. A good portion of the kids viewing it ended up picking up the celebrated 1977 Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set and fantastic literature crystalized into a sub-Tolkienian orthodoxy... though it must be said that, judging from his gloriously purple prose, Uncle Gary was more of an A. Merritt fan.

Now, speaking of both nostalgia trips and fantasy trips, this year is seeing the resurrection of role-playing game The Fantasy Trip, which author/designer Steve Jackson was able to regain control over after it was killed off by an unscrupulous publisher who let the IP languish rather than sell it back to Mr Jackson at a reasonable price. This game, based off of a couple of skirmish-simulation microgames, was a favorite to play during short school breaks due to its speed and simplicity. I played quite a bit of it at school, and became adept at finding the more outré character builds while everybody else was stuck in that mighty sword rut... you see, I was also a big A. Merritt fan.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Dogwood Days of Summer

You've heard of the dog days of summer, but this tail end of the season is, for me, the dogwood days of summer, the days when the delicious Kousa dogwood fruits ripen. For the record, I didn't know they were edible when I first tried one, but they have become part of the foraging menu. They have an undeniable visual appeal:

The yellowish pulp inside has the sweet deliciousness of a tropical fruit, but there's not a lot of substance to these beauties. Give each a couple of licks, then move on to the next one. There are plenty of them to be had, because these ornamental trees are everywhere.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Realistic Threat Assessment?

Think of the dangers that a hurricane poses- rising flood waters, high winds propelling objects-rendered-projectiles through the air, falling trees, downed power lines that can electrocute bystanders... then think of this danger that the godawful New York Post decided to highlight. Yeah, snakes... right, they are really something to worry about amid the general mayhem.

This raises the perennial question:

Why did it have to be snakes? Well, many people have an irrational fear of snakes, and the target audience of Rupert Murdoch's Post are fearful, ignorant people, the sort of people who regularly make poor threat assessments. In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those individuals who loves snakes- I find them fascinating, elegant, beautiful creatures, creatures which are generally beneficially to humankind, even though venomous snakes can pose a danger to humans who frighten them.

Florence is an unfolding disaster, but somehow Murdoch 'journalism' can make things even worse.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Florence and the Rain Machine

I've been periodically checking in on the progress of Hurricane Florence, and I am reminded of 2011's Hurricane Irene and 2012's Superstorm Sandy. Florence, like Irene, is a slow moving rain machine- while 'only' a category one hurricane at landfall, the main damage will be due to storm surge, largely an effect of the storm's 500 mile (800 kilometer) diameter, and the flooding rainfall. Here in the Northeast, Superstorm Sandy's destructive effects were due to storm surge while Irene wreaked havoc in New England due to its slow pace and heavy rains. Florence looks like it'll hit the Carolinas with a combination of both.

The real 'elephant in the room' is the development of the Outer Banks, the barrier islands along the North Carolina coast, which are being inundated, and other low-lying coastal areas. Even under the best conditions, barrier islands are ephemeral- they go, move, shift with the currents. I'm not a big Bible reader, but there's something to be said about not building a house on a foundation of sand.

To compound the dangers of flooding, North Carolina is infamous for its pig manure lagoons which, if flooding causes them to overtop their 'banks', will contaminate rivers and groundwater before the fecal flood pollutes the coastal waters, possibly causing algal blooms and sea life die-off. Even worse than the pigshit is the coal ash from power plants, which contains heavy metals, which are even worse than fecal coliforms. I'm of the opinion that a 'war on coal' is a good thing, but I'm one of those 'nanny state' regulation junkies.

One concern that I have is that the coastal devastation in the wake of Florence will result in an orgy of Disaster Capitalism. One particularly vulnerable population is the Gullah Geechee community of the low country and offshore islands, who have largely preserved their African heritage through the centuries. The Gullah Geechee are already beleaguered by global warming and predatory developers, and a destructive storm might be the factor which pushes them over the edge.

At any rate, I have a suspicion that Florence will be another unmitigated disaster, partly due to Trumpian incompetence, partly due to rapacious disaster capitalism.

Post title taken from one of contemporary pop music's most dramatic performers...

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Most Unusual Primary Election Day

I arrived at work in the predawn hours this morning, because my workplace is a polling site and today is the day on which a bunch of primary elections take place. Typically, election days are on Tuesdays, but Rosh Hashana falling on Monday and Tuesday pushed the election back to a Thursday this year. My role on election days is to open up the building and to help the poll workers set up the voting machines, the 'Plan B' backup scanner, and the various tables and privacy desks provided by the Board of Elections. I'm also the guy who remembers where the 100 foot 'no electioneering' sign goes.

The big election today is the NY State Democratic gubernatorial primary. Governor Andrew Cuomo is being challenged by Cynthia Nixon, who is best known as a 'Sex and the City' actress. I'm a little leery of celebrity candidates, especially given the reality TV turkey in the White House, but Ms Nixon has been a good foil for Governor Cuomo, forcing him to tack to the left on numerous issues. Cuomo is an opportunist, and a bit too much of a centrist for me, but I suspect he will steamroll Ms Nixon. This is why the distribution of a flyer accusing Ms Nixon of antisemitism was a bizarre, as well as a nasty, campaign strategy, no matter who drew it up. The lieutenant governor race pits NYC councilman Jumaane Williams against current lt gov Kathy Hochul. Hochul is an upstate conservadem, while Williams is more likely to prioritize the needs of downstaters such as myself.

The other big semi-local election is the primary against Democrat-who-caucuses-with-Republicans asshole Jeff Klein. Christ, I hope the people of the Bronx vote his ass out of the state legislature.

I'm only here for four hours- once 9AM rolls around, the dayshift will be here, the onsite gift shop and cafe will be open, and tourists will be mingling with the voters. I will be going home to my beloved Yonkers to vote in the primary, after which I shall pass out and sleep the sleep of the just.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Trivia You Learn on the Internet

Being an individual of a certain age, I am a fan of post-punk/proto-Goth band The Cure, though my one post mentioning them name-dropped their one-off project with their mailman on lead vocals. Lately, I have been listening to the band quite a bit because of a conversation with a friend who is also a big fan.

One of the band's most atmospheric songs from their early career is the 1981 single Charlotte Sometimes, a moody number about a girl who sometimes is 'dreaming while the other people dance'. Poking around the t00bz tonight, I found a video (disavowed by singer Robert Smith) for the song, and learned that the song was based on a 1969 novel of the same title. The video for the song is a nice visualization of the novel's plot, which involves a protagonist, Charlotte naturally, who exchanges bodies periodically with another girl from forty years before her own time:

The Cure - Charlotte Sometimes from Nexus on Vimeo.

Put into its proper context, the song takes on a whole new meaning- it's not a song about a doomed romance, but something much more fantastic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Getting Political This Year

I was thinking about putting up an anodyne, apolitical post about 9/11 this year (I am a New Yorker, I had friends killed in the attack, and friends who died of illnesses related to the attack, and friends who are suffering the aftereffect of the attack), but then I saw Dotard's Twitter feed and decided to take the gloves off.

9/11 was a Republican disaster, pure and simple.

The attacks succeeded because a Republican president, unelected but installed by a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, decided to ignore the intelligence warning of a coming terrorist attack on the United States.

The Republican mayor of New York City, advised to put the emergency command center in downtown Brooklyn's Metrotech, put it in World Trade Center 7 as a favor to a well-connected real estate mogul, putting the nerve center right in the middle of the city's biggest target. There is a reason why Rudy was wandering the streets of downtown Manhattan, gaining an undeserved iconic status- it was his incompetence, not his valor.

After the attacks, the Republican administration decided not to go after the perpetrators of the attacks, but to prosecute a war against the innocent population of Iraq, ending up in the deaths of countless Iraqis, thousands of American servicemembers, and resulting in a destabilized Middle East and a refugee crisis which is now destabilizing Europe. The Republican administration also put into place a surveillance state which still threatens the civil liberties of all Americans.

Most of the Republicans in Congress voted against a benefits package to aid ailing first responders, even filibustering against it in 2010. Jon Stewart was instrumental into shaming Congress into voting the act into law.

Trump himself has a shameful record regarding his statements and actions in the aftermath of the attacks, and even today, he can't help but bring an immature note of triumphalism into what should be a sober day for reflection.

9/11 was a Republican disaster, the responses to 9/11 were a Republican disaster. 9/11 should have marked the end of the Republican Party, but complicit corporate media persisted in portraying Republicans as 'strong on national security', all evidence to the contrary. 9/11 has degenerated into Right Wing Christmas, with all sorts of crying eagle kitsch (as an aside, those eagles would have gone extinct if environmentalists hadn't pushed for DDT bans). I hereby invite all of the Deplorables, MAGAts, Teabaggers, and the like to shove all of their kitsch, their victimhood, their false piety, their jingoism up their asses. Real people suffered, and are suffering, because of the incompetence of the people you voted and vote for, leave them to their remembrances. This isn't your day, assholes.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Shana Tovah

Here's wishing a happy new year to my Jewish readers. This Rosh Hashana, I am perplexed by the prevalence of anti-semitism in the United States in the year 2018, by which I mean 5779. As a non-Jewish person with many Jewish friends, who is interested in fields in which Jewish contributions loom large, such as science and the arts, I am perplexed by anti-Jewish attitudes. There is a whole Conspiracy Industrial Complex which pushes the idea that there is a Jewish cabal which seeks to overthrow 'White' cultures with a blend of multiculturalism and 'degenerate' art and culture... you know, stuff people like for entertainment.

Being a New Yorker, I have always had Jewish friends and neighbors- we celebrated each others' holidays together and, in contravention of Tucker Carlson's assholery, appreciated each others' culture. Yiddish terms such as schlep, nosh, kvetch, and mishegas season my vocabulary. I often joke that I'd make a good shabbos goy.

This post, besides being a Happy New Year wish to my Jewish readers, is also a statement of solidarity. The United States has been one country in which Jewish people have been allowed to thrive, and their contributions to our society are immeasurable. They have been at the forefront of medicine, science, the arts, and civil rights movements- the latter being a major factor in the hatred that authoritarians feel toward them (besides their role as the perpetual 'other'). I am confident that things will get better later this year, but if things get worse, I will do my utmost to be among the Righteous.

Shana Tovah, friends, and be of good courage.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Horror of Spider Dock

Last week, when I was in Maine for my cousin Val's wedding, a bunch of my young next-gen cousins regaled me with a tale of horror... The had swum out to a floating swimming/diving dock not far from the family cabin. While there, they encountered a creature of nightmare, which they took to be a humongous wolf spider with an egg sac, lairing on the side of the dock near the waterline. They were somewhat daunted by this creature, but they bravely took up their position on the dock, which makes a lovely platform from which to jump into the lake. Then, the unthinkable happened, the egg sac burst open, releasing a swarm of spiderlings onto the dock. In the face of this arachnid onslaught, my young cousins vacated the dock.

After recounting this tale of shuddery, spidery grue, they (naturally) insisted that I accompany them on a swim to Spider Dock. When we reached this woeful sight, they pointed out the gruesome creature, a spider with a legspan of over two inches. Me being me, knowing that knowledge is better than comfort, I revealed the truth, even more dreadful than they imagined:

"Guys, that's not a wolf spider, it's a fishing spider. It didn't stow away on the dock while it was towed away from the land, it got here on its own, and if you managed to dislodge it, it would just return on its own."

I am happy to say that this revelation was met with grit- even as the spider was revealed as a creature more formidable than they originally thought, they lost any fear of the beast. That's what the trips to the North Country are for- to put fear behind, to learn the beauty of the dark, the enchantment of eerie noises, to realize that mysteries are exercises the intellect can solve.

Friday, September 7, 2018

That Most Southern of Actors

It's perhaps weird to consider that the recently-deceased Burt Reynolds, that quintessentially 'Southern' actor, was born in Michigan. Burt was a monster star in the 1970s and 1980s, typically playing a good-old boy or a bad boy. As a kid, my favorite movie of his was 1978's Hooper, in which Reynolds played an almost autobiographical role, an aging stuntman one crash away from incapacitation. Seen with the perspective of a more civilized age, the movie, though good-natured is a paean to bad behavior:

Reynold's best film, albeit one that is difficult to watch, is 1972 Southern Gothic opus Deliverance, based on James Dickey's 1970 novel. In it, Reynolds plays a Georgia businessman who embarks with three friends on an ill-fated whitewater canoeing trip. The movie is a jarring juxtaposition of horrific actions and gorgeous scenery, and Burt Reynolds' Lewis, a skilled outdoorsman, readily takes to the violent mindset needed to survive an ordeal resulting from an attack by the locals:

The movie is a harrowing exploration of violent masculinity in a world in which the one unfailingly decent man on the expedition gets killed while his three compatriots call on their more 'primitive' instincts in order to thwart the murderous intentions of their surviving attacker. Reynolds' character receives a battering from the elements, and Reynolds himself rode the canoe down the dangerous rapids:

The trailer of the movie perfectly showcases the beauty of the scenery and Reynolds' almost feral masculinity:

After this bravura performance, Reynolds played a plethora of roles as Southern scoundrels with a basically decent core facing genuine villains, in such films as White Lightning and it's sequel Gator. Back in 1993, on a cross-country road trip, my college roommates and I stopped at a Louisiana gator farm (closed because an almost-unprecedented snowstorm had rendered the gators torpid) which prominently displayed an airboat featured in Gator. While not involving an airboat, here's a scene, with some cringeworthy racial content, depicting an airborne boat:

Burt followed this up with a string of car-chase action-comedies for the rest of the seventies- a couple of Smokey and the Bandit movies, a couple of Cannonball Runs. He also hearkened back to his days as a football player with such films as The Longest Yard and Semi-Tough. As Arnold Schwarzenegger noted, Burt was the template for the wisecracking action hero, the charismatic macho man who is always ready with his fists and his mouth. Even the list of roles he turned down is an epic roster of action heroes.

Hell, the guy even sang:

Late in his career, he had some comedic roles in movies such a Boogie Nights and Striptease, a 'second act' after he'd aged out of the puncho puncho run run roles of his earlier career.

There won't be another like him- they guy was a one-man box office machine, with some fantastic movies and some turkeys, with a ton of fun-yet-simple movies to his credit as well. While I'm not a big fan of car chase movies, I will be watching some of his better clips, the ones that showcase his good-humor and considerable charm.